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Uncle Sam is loosening the reigns on recreational drone usage

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) If you use a drone recreationally, the rules of engagement with the FAA have changed.


Good news, drone hobbyists!

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that starting from December 21, 2016, all small-unmanned aircrafts (UAS) (weighing between 0.55 lbs. and 55 lbs.) must be registered with the agency, in order for the government to keep tabs, before flying their devices—the so called Registration Rule.

Last Friday, a three-judge panel at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously vacated that FAA rule. Small non-commercial aircrafts no longer needs registration.

Not a rule, a decision

During the hearing, the FAA argued that the Registration Rule is not a new rule but “merely a decision to cease its exercise of enforcement discretion.” Moreover, they argued that nothing in the FMRA (Federal Modernization and Reform Act of 2012) prohibits the agency from requiring registrations.

The judges disagreed.

The FAA, they announced, violated “clear statutory prohibition” established by the FMRS, which says FAA cannot regulate “model aircrafts.” The Court clearly categorized drones as “model aircrafts.”

The Registration Rule, is in fact, new

“The Registration Rule does not merely announce an intent to enforce a pre-existing statutory requirement,” Judge Kavanaugh wrote, but is “a rule that creates a new regulatory regime for model aircraft.”

“Statutory interpretation does not get much simpler; the Registration Rule is unlawful.”

With the voiding of the law just five months after it came into existence, the FAA had no immediate path forward. The Federal Agency has been trying for years to create a national drone registration system for recreational use. In a statement, they promised a review of the verdict.

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Not everyone favored the court ruling

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone and robotics advocacy non-profit, disagreed with the Friday ruling. “We plan to work with Congress on a legislative solution that will ensure continued accountability across the entire aviation community, both manned and unmanned,” said AUVSI president and CEO Brian Wynne in a statement.

The Small UAV Coalition, which includes members like Amazon and Intel, also opposed the ruling

The Small UAV Coalition said, “The FAA must have appropriate authority to maintain reasonable oversight of UAS operations, including management of a national UAS registry, which is the first step to identifying UAS operating in the national airspace.”

Judge Kavanaugh acknowledged aviation safety is “obviously an important goal” but he pointed out, “Congress is of course always free to repeal or amend its 2012 prohibition on FAA rules regarding model aircraft,” Kavanugh noted. “Perhaps Congress should do so. Perhaps not. In any event, we must follow the statute as written.”

Flying free

Back in December, an FAA administrator said in defense of the Rule, “Registration gives us the opportunity to educate these new airspace users before they fly so they know the airspace rules and understand they are accountable to the public for flying responsibly.”

People who failed to register in this short window of time risked significant fines and even jail time – there are no reports of the FAA enforcing the law.

It is clear that the FAA would have to urge Congress to enact new laws or amend the original 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act that designated drones as model aircraft. Both shall require time and resources.

For now, if you have a UAS, go fly free!

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Barnil is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily. With a Master's Degree in International Relations, Barnil is a Research Assistant at UT, Austin. When he hikes, he falls. When he swims, he sinks. When he drives, others honk. But when he writes, people read.


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